Four Downs on College Football Week 0


Week 0 began in 2014 as a one-off showcase for FCS heavyweights. 2015 followed the same script. The addition of a second game featuring FBS teams joined the fray last season, signaling it would only be a matter of time before Week 0 more closely resembled a full-fledged college football Saturday.

And indeed, the weekened-before-the-first-weekend of the 2017 season went more than 12 hours after kickoff in Tallahassee between Florida A&M and Texas Southern; and the action concluding in Australia with Stanford and Rice.

Coincidentally, the FCS matchup that would have owned Week 0 in previous years — Richmond vs. Sam Houston State — was postponed. The delay of a Top 10 FCS game serves as reminder that no matter how irrationally we might act over the game of football, it’s still just a game.

Such is the theme The Open Man aims to uphold throughout the 2017 college football season, starting with this: the first edition of Four Downs.

First Down: Perspective on Texas

As for this writing, Hurricane Harvey (since downgraded to tropical storm) continues pounding South Texas with torrential rain. Huntsville lies in the storm’s path, hence the decision to postpone the Richmond-Sam Houston State matchup.

Rescheduling will be an afterthought once the rain stops. Harvey may not bring devastation on part with 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, from which communities in the Gulf Coast are still undergoing various rebuilding efforts more than a decade later.

But a storm need not be Katrina to ravage communities. When flooding hit the Gulf late last summer, speaking with university athletic administrators and coaches provided me insight into the impact devastating weather has on area football programs, both with locally recruited players directly effected, and helping with the clean-up effort.

Harvey’s impact isn’t a one-time inconvenience. The great Ivan Maisel wrote a 10-year retrospective on Katrina’s far-reaching effects for Tulane football, which should help put into perspective the significance of this event for those in Harvey’s path.

Though athletes can use their platforms to make a difference, like those football players who helped load trucks in the above linked story on 2016’s floods, football itself is ultimately frivolous. If there’s nothing else we can remember in the 2017 season, it’s to not take the outcomes too seriously.

Refocus that energy in the same way as the players, by contributing to in the aftermath. Charity Navigator offers ways to help.

Second Down: Beware First Quarter Tweets

Had your only exposure to Saturday’s USF-San Jose State game been social media in the first quarter, you might have assumed Charlie Strong was destined for the shortest tenure of a full-time head coach in college football history.

Popular opinion dismissed Strong, the defensive mind behind two Florida Gators national championship and the man responsible for building Louisville into a national contender, after three tepid seasons in the poisoned well that is Texas football.

In a world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, a coach (or athlete, for matter) is judged by his most recent exploits. And when San Jose State capitalized on a few USF miscues early to build a 16-0 lead, short-term memory painted Charlie Strong not as the leader of a Sugar Bowl-winning program; but as the coach who lost to Kansas.

But not all assessments from the national punditry were quite so jokey.

It’s worth noting USF took a 28-16 lead into halftime.

Broad brushstroke evaluations based on a single game are outlandish — remember when Alabama’s dynasty was over? — but based on a single quarter? And it’s a common occurrence in the college football social media landscape. Be wary of sweeping evaluations made in first quarters; and that refers both to individual games and the season as a whole.

The First-Quarter Tweet epidemic extends through the month of September, college football’s first portion of the season. In 2015, no one was catching Leonard Fournette for the Heisman. Last season, USC was toast and so was Clay Helton’s coaching regime.

Through one game of the 2017 season, plenty are willing to write off Gary Andersen at Oregon State after a loss to a Colorado State team no shortage of astute pundits tabbed for Mountain West championship contention. Similar knee-jerk reactions are sure to follow other programs in the next few weeks to come.

Tweeting takes literally a few seconds. First-quarter tweets aren’t worth much thought beyond that.

Third Down: Michael Gallup Needs A Nickname

Colorado State’s Michael Gallup came into the Rams’ Week 0 date with Oregon State one of the most productive returning wide receivers in college football. He picked up right where he left in 2016, burning the Beavers for 134 yards on 11 receptions.

With Oregon State threatening to come back after some third-quarter mishaps, this catch was a game-breaker.

Gallup nicely fills the starring role former Ram standout Rashard Higgins manned just a few seasons ago. Higgins gained national buzz in part because of his nickname, “Hollywood.”

It’s time for Gallup to have his own nationally known nickname.

Now, the Hollywood theme has an interest tie to Gallup in a roundabout way. Let’s take it back to the 1920s when Illinois halfback Red Grange emerged as one of the sport’s earliest stars.

Grange’s gridiron exploits gained renown after he made the transition to Hollywood as an actor, starring in the film with which he shares a nickname: The Galloping Ghost.

Of course, Michael Gallup has a built-in reason to incorporate reference to the late, great Grange. The Galluping GOAT? Goats are in the same family as rams, after all.

The Open Man promises to work on this.

Fourth Down: Growing Running Backs on The Farm

As emphasized in Second Down, putting too much stock into a single performance is a fool’s errand. There’s context to consider, such as opponent — and indeed, Rice was ill-equipped to slow Stanford in Saturday’s Australian nightcap.

Nevertheless, Bryce Love continued on the quietly impressive showing he had stepping in for Christian McCaffrey at various points last season, torching the Owls defense in a historic performance.

College fantasy football players might be more perturbed than impressed, given teammate Cameron Scarlett swooped in for three touchdowns to Love’s one. But that only serves to further illustrate how effectively Stanford has developed the running back position predating and throughout David Shaw’s tenure as head coach.

Toby Gerhart’s run to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in 2009 began a remarkable stretch in which one Cardinal running back after another has put up some of the best rushing (and sometimes receiving) numbers in the nation.

Gerhart gave way to Stepfan Taylor, who was followed by Tyler Gaffney, who a season after his departure found a successor in Christian McCaffrey.

With Love seemingly poised to continue the run, and Scarlett perhaps ready to fill the short-yardage and goal-line responsibilities that made Remound Wright critical to the 2015 Cardinal’s success, Stanford is putting together a credible argument as the West’s Running Back U.

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